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Giclee Printing Industry

Congratulations! Six months ago you took delivery of your new Epson wide format printer , whether its a newer Epson 11880 or the Epson 9880 printer, or one of the older Epson 9800, Epson 7800, Epson 4800, Epson 9600, Epson 7600, Epson 4000, and you are now outputting top quality photographic or fine art pieces on art paper, film and/or canvas. By now you have obtained a good grasp of the color management requirements and operational details. You have mastered the market that Epson has targeted for these incredible machines and hopefully you are making a profit in the process. You are also a player in a fascinating seismic change in market conditions, which has been taking place over the last decade due to the evolution of digital technology. This tidal wave of change has allowed you to be doing what you are doing right now with your Epson printer. It is also right behind your back ready to sweep you away in a bubbling backwash of “creative destruction”.

Don’t think you are at risk? Take a look at the short history of high end digital fine art reproduction. Ten years ago the entire market was dominated by a small group of publishers who financed, printed or outsourced, and distributed art. The first seismic shift occurred with the application of high-end Iris printers being used to produce prints. The dynamics involved in marketing an edition has changed dramatically over a short period of only a few years. Instead of needing $20,000 for a serigraphic edition, one could output art on demand, lowering the financial barrier of entry of running small editions, 40 fold. Sell a few, and then print a few more. An artist could now publish himself (self-empowerment). The $100,000 price tag of an Iris was a new financial barrier creating a new series of companies that began printing for both publishers and artists who were savvy enough to be able to market their products themselves. Publishers and serigraphic printers were stunned by this. Does everyone remember the “Giclee” vs Serigraphy debate? How about further back when Serigraphy was the new kid on the block and the battlefield was Serigraphy vs. Stone Litho? History has proven to us that it is almost always a bad plan defending old business/technology models vs. new business/technology models with inherent advantages. Although the older models may suffice in the short term, they rarely withstand the pressures of an advancing industry over the long term. This is not to say that a few fine boutique operations (including a few fine stone litho operations) cannot survive the turmoil. But the vast majority of them are now going or gone.

The next seismic shift occurred with the introduction of the first usable generation of pigmented inks from Epson. Epson “Archival Inks” were a major breakthrough that forever changed the entire printmaking landscape, yet again. Certainly by now we are all aware of its shortcomings; lower color gamut, metamerism, too much glycol, and sensitivity to ozone (First generations always have their problems, in products and in everything else). But did you not feel the ground shift beneath your feet when this technology was released? Did you not feel the entire landscape experience another contortion? To most, this contortion could be reasonably described as seismic industry activity. Print longevity, the “Achilles’ Heel” of the giclee print market, was being aggressively addressed. For a tenth of the cost of an Iris, this particular micro-world became Epson’s overnight (please, no Roland comments as they were very creatively using Epson technology). Iris was forced aside from that point forward. You can pick up an Iris on EBay for a song (although I wouldn’t be singing)! While, Iris studios still exist and they continue making beautiful prints, the fact remains that it is a market in contraction. This market will continue to contract. In summary, the introduction of low-cost printers created the following market changes; lower cost of entry, publishers became less important, the level of expertise required for printmaking significantly decreased, and the market expanded.

This brings us to the introduction of Ultrachrome inks. Could this be considered another seismic event? Most industry veterans would support this claim. In fact, there is a strong chance that the majority of you reading this article began digital printing as a result of Epson’s release of the Ultrachrome Inks.

In reality, the introduction of Ultrachrome Inks was more of a strong aftershock than a unique cataclysmic event. Although marketed as a “new” product by Epson, Ultrachrome was actually a graceful extension of the Archival Inks. The issues that plagued the Archival Inks were being addressed and the product had improved. Namely, the print quality was significantly better, the ease of operation was improved upon, and the cost of entry was cut in half.

Now that we are up to speed, what does the market currently look like? Today, for only a few thousand dollars, just about anyone can set themselves up as a digital print studio. Granted, it still takes expertise to produce a truly great product. Though, little by little that barrier is being compromised by continuous substrate developments, color management improvements, Photoshop upgrades, new software development, and continuous innovation from Epson and other manufacturers. These products will eventually become completely turnkey, allowing the novice printmakers of tomorrow to produce visually indistinguishable prints from your knowledge-invested prints of today.

Make no mistake about it; the current value that you add to the present economical equation is through your technical knowledge on how to make a beautiful print. In the mainstream photographic and fine-art markets, that value is going to contract. Are you prepared for this?

How do you prepare for the continuous seismic events shaking your livelihood? The first step is to use your current cash flow stream to distinguish yourself from the mainstream flow of product development. Distance yourself from what will be replaced, inevitably, with improved technology. This, of course, does not mean that you should stop using products that are generating current profits. It does mean that you should continuously look for specialty markets that are growing in which you can develop unique knowledge that will provide you with future source of income.

As companies and their products like Epson giclee printer and HP giclee printer grows in size, their internal requirements to enter a specialty markets naturally increase. This will open opportunities in specialty markets that Epson hasn’t automated (or maybe never will) because the market is not big enough for them to waste their time on it. These are the markets you need to capitalize on. Large corporations like Epson and HP will only enter and automate markets that cross a certain revenue threshold and that bar will consistently move higher as long as Epson grows in size. These are the markets you need to diversify away from.

How do you spot these unique opportunities? You don’t necessarily have to be the trail blazer, innovating everything yourself. In today’s world, the best growth opportunities reach your critical-mass size when a small group of innovators band together to share information on a growing market that excites them. With the information availability of the internet, these groups share an amazing amount of information online (that in the past would have been proprietary). This free flow of information has had the desirable effect of causing rapid innovation growth and turbo charging new market expansion. Therein lays the opportunity to earn.

Today’s printmaking entrepreneur (and most of you are exactly that) will have to be nimble and constantly able to reinvent themselves, evolving with the competitive landscape of this industry. You must be realistic in evaluating where technology in going and how that will help you or hinder your future earning potential. Most importantly, you must have the ability to spot seismic events that will drastically change the entire environment, even when it’s not initially noticeable. Only then can you tailor a long-term strategy to meet the demands of the ever-changing marketplace.